Sunday, 19 September 2021

Dinton Pastures parkrun

In the ceremonial county of Berkshire you will find the village of Hurst in the civil parish of St Nicholas Hurst, which has a population of just over 2000 people. It sits about half-way between the towns of Reading and Wokingham. The area was originally known as Whistley and the Manor of Hurst is a 16th century Elizabethan manor house which sits in 40 acres of parkland near the centre of the village. Since 1979 a 335 acre area to the south of the of the village has been home to Dinton Pastures Country Park.

The park contains meadows, woodland and seven lakes. These areas attract and support an abundance of wildlife, including many hundreds of species of birds. It's also home to many land animals such as stoats, mink, weasels, foxes, and deer. We spotted some rabbits hanging out in the playground early in the morning. The River Loddon flows through the western side of the park and the Emm Brook through the eastern side.

The park is also home to the Dinton Activity Centre where you can partake in activities such as kayaking, canoeing and sailing or simply hire a pedalo or row boat for something more relaxing. On land there is the option of the climbing wall, abseiling and a zip wire, as well as an interesting game called Disc Golf (essentially it's golf played with a frisbee). The park also has a children's play area, Dinton Adventure Golf, two cafes and the Airstream Caravan which serves light takeaway refreshments. In the north-west of the park you will find the Museum of Berkshire Aviation

The area the park now occupies was once part of the Great Forest of Windsor, and had for previously been used as farmland. It eventually became known as High Chimneys Farm, and the main house, which does indeed have high chimneys, was built in the 1500s. In 1924 the farm was sold and the new owner renamed it Dinton Pastures Farm after his home village of Dinton, in Buckinghamshire.

During the 1960s and 1970s the land was used for gravel extraction and the majority of the gravel extracted was used in the construction of both the M4 and the A329(M) roads which run past the south of the country park. It was this extraction process that created the large pits that now form the lakes. Wokingham District Council took over the land towards the end of the 1970s to create the country park.

In July 2018 the country park became home to a free, weekly, 5km event called Dinton Pastures parkrun. However, this was not the first time a parkrun had taken place here. It had previously been used as Reading parkrun's back-up course as their Thames Valley Park course is prone to flooding.

The permanent event was an instant hit with initial numbers in the high 100s. Over the years this grew to a steady weekly attendance figure of around 300. The post-covid return saw numbers drop a little and it would be normal to see somewhere in the mid-200s at any given event. The official average number at time of writing is 254.8.

We visited on 18 September 2021 to take part in event 99 as this was the last event number I needed to take my Wilson Index to a nice round 100. There are a total of 6 car parks spread across the park all of which incur a charge of £1.65 per hour up to four hours. If staying for longer there is a flat rate of £6.60. There is a payment machine if you like to do things the old fashioned way, however the fee is also payable via the RingGo website/app. We parked in the main car park which is the most convenient option if you'd like to be close to the cafe and toilets.

If travelling by public transport, the closest mainline station is Winnersh Triangle but due to the nature of the road layout, this isn't the best one to use. I would instead head to Winnersh station where the route to the country park is a simple walk straight along Robin Hood Lane / B3030. For cyclists, I saw some small bicycle racks in the car park, but most cyclists seemed to lock their bikes to the trees around the parkrun meeting area.

The parkrun meeting area can be found just to the west of the car park in a triangular clearing just past the playground, next to Mungell's Pond. The course is totally flat and takes place over two anti-clockwise laps. However, the laps are not exactly the same (we'll come to that later). Underfoot features a combination of compacted gravel/stones and dirt, in dry conditions road shoes are fine, but after rain or in the winter you may find trail shoes to be the better option. I took part with my son in the running buggy and it was mildly bumpy for him, but otherwise perfectly fine.

After the run briefings, the crowd of eager parkrunners are escorted further down the path to the start area. The start line is fairly narrow, so it takes a bit of time for everyone to get going. Both of the laps effectively loop around White Swan Lake, but in different ways. The first uses the path that runs directly alongside the lake, until diverting away for a loop around a smaller lake called Tufty's Corner. It then rejoins the southern side of the lake until the loop is complete.

The second lap follows the path which runs alongside Black Swan Lake which eventually re-joins the White Swan Lake path at its most northerly point, before following it all the way back to complete the loop. This second lap does not include the Tufty's Corner loop. Once the second lap is complete, the course heads back to the original meeting/briefing point where the finish is on the grass. A better way to get your head around the course would be to view the GPS data or a Relive video.

It's a difficult course to describe in any great detail, as the surroundings don't really change much as you progresses around the course. The general theme is that you are on a forest path with trees on both sides and every now and then you get a glimpse of one of the lakes through gaps in the trees. When you do see the lakes, the views are picturesque. You may even see some of the swans. It's a pleasant place to be and the only interruption to the peace and quiet is on the south side of the course where you can hear the hum of the traffic on the A329.

Post-parkrun, we headed straight over to the Dragonfly Cafe which is adjacent to the car park and the toilets. They still had pretty strict covid-19 precautions in place, so we placed our order and took a seat at one of the numerous benches in the garden. Our parkrun results came through while we were eating our late breakfasts and 216 people had taken part in event 99.

For anyone with kids, they'll love the playground so don't expect a quick getaway. We also took a walk along the eastern side of Black Swan Lake to the brand new Dinton Activity Centre. The cafe on the upper level has a balcony which is a great place to sit and enjoy the view across the lake.

After over seven hours of parkrunning, breakfasting, playing and exploring we decided we'd better hit the road back home. It was already 3.30pm and we were exhausted, but very happy with the great day out we'd had at Dinton Pastures.


Monday, 13 September 2021

Valentines parkrun

In the East London Borough of Redbridge, you will find the town of Ilford which has a population of over 160,000 people. The name of the town is first recorded in the Domesday book of 1086 as Ilefort which supposedly means Ford over the Hyle. Hyle being the old name for the River Roding which flows along the western border of the town. Ilford is now one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse places in the UK.

One of the most significant historical places in Ilford is Valentines Mansion and its grounds. This Grade II listed building was originally built c.1696 for a lady called Elizabeth Tillotson who was Oliver Cromwell's niece and also the widow of the Archbishop of Canterbury,  John Tillotson. The name Valentines comes from an earlier estate that existed in the same location. As the years passed, the mansion changed ownership several times and the current building's appearance is largely from modifications made in the 1760s and 1811.

An interesting fact is that the Valentines used to be home to a grape vine (Black Hamburg). In c.1768 a cutting was taken by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and this was planted at Hampton Court Palace. This cutting has been thriving ever since and is known as The Great Vine. It is the largest grape vine in the world.

Back then the mansion sat in the open countryside, miles outside of London. Of course it now sits right in the middle of the busy urban sprawl of the city. As the town of Ilford was growing, Ilford Urban District Council recognised the need for a municipal park to benefit the well-being of its residents. A 19 hectare piece of land at the southern end of Valentines was bought and developed into Ilford's flagship park, named 'Central Park' or 'Cranbrook Park' opened in 1899 (different sources state different names).

The park was then enlarged in 1907 when an area at the northern end of Valentines' grounds was donated to the council and a further area was purchased to link it to the existing park. By now the park had been renamed Valentines Park, which is the name it retains to this day. A few years later, in 1912, the council purchased the mansion and its remaining grounds. A small part of the grounds were developed into housing, but the majority was also incorporated into the park. 

At 52 hectares, the modern day park is the largest green space in the London borough of Redbridge. General facilities in the southernmost section include, children's playground, boating lake, outdoor gym, tennis courts, toilets and a cafe. The northern part of the park has more of a formal feel to it and this area boasts walled gardens, the mansion, various ponds where you should spot some swans, a wilderness walk and another (fancier) cafe. The mansion and formal gardens were visited by The Queen in 2012 as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour.

The park is a Grade II Listed Landscape, has a green flag award, and has placed in the top ten (out of over 2000) in the People's Choice awards for best park on six occasions between 2012 and 2020. In 2011, the area adjacent to the mansion was used as the filming location for the second season of The Great British Bake Off. Also in 2011, the park became home to a free, weekly 5km event called Valentines parkrun. And this is why we were visiting the park.

This wasn't my first visit to Valentines parkrun. I had previously attended the event in December 2012 where there were 56 participants. On that occasion, the weather was dreadful and despite having a decent run, the park hadn't really left much of an impression on me. I left straight after I finished the run as I was soaked through and needed to get home and into some dry clothes. I was pleased that for my return visit, the weather was much better and we went as a family which meant we'd be spending a good few hours in the park afterwards.

Before we left home, I checked the car parking arrangements. There are a few places to park within the boundaries of the park itself, which is very convenient. However there is a cost involved with this - plus, all payments must be made by either using the RingGo app or website which depending on your point of view is either really handy or a bit of a faff. The thing is, most of the side streets around the perimeter of the park are restriction-free, so we just parked outside the western side of the park on Emerson Road for free.

When I visited in 2012, I had travelled using the tube. I alighted at Gants Hill station and entered the park via the northern end. The closest railway station is Ilford which is just to the south of the park. There are also numerous busses that stop close by. For cyclists, I spotted a few cycle racks around the park but there are also additional fences near the start/finish that could be used as an alternative.

Upon entering the park, we headed towards the southern section near the boating lake which is where the parkrun meets, starts and finishes. This area contains the playground, cafe and toilets. The toilets were your basic no frills variety that did the job, they are very close to the start. There are additional toilet facilities at the northern end of the park near the mansion, plus some more outside the park the southwest corner on Cranbrook Road.

The course has been modified since my original visit. It consists of a start straight, followed by two anti-clockwise laps, and then a finish straight. The course is flat and 100% tarmac underfoot - perfectly fine for buggy running and for wheelchair athletes. Road shoes are fine here all year round. In terms of numbers of attendees, the official average is currently 181.1. Pre-covid the weekly number of attendees had started to exceed 300 each week, but since parkrun returned from the covid shutdown, the numbers have been in the low 200s.

So, just before 9am everyone gathers on the path on the northern side of the boating lake (opposite the playground) right next to the Wishing Well which I noticed a lot of people used as a place to store bags etc. It's a nice wide path which works really well as a start-finish place. At the end of this path, the course heads around the western side of the boating lake. Here the course passes the Valentines Park Clock Tower which houses a plaque commemorating the 1899 opening of the park.

At the southernmost point of the course, you pass the Holocaust Memorial Garden before heading along the meandering path towards the easternmost point of the course. Caution may be required here as the course actually crosses one of the car parks. On my first lap a car crossed the course as I was approaching. Also at this corner of the course there are three speed bumps to go over - the event director had given numerous warnings about them, so it's worth being aware of their existence. For the record, my son was being pushed by my wife in the running buggy and he loved going over them.

From here you work your way into the eastern side of the park where you'll cross and run adjacent to the Cranbrook Corridor. The Cran Brook feeds into the boating lake via a man-made channel. More water features await further around the course where you briefly travel alongside the southern edge of the duck pond. We saw a really humorous sight of geese walking towards the pond in a long line (see photo above), unintentionally mimicking exactly what all the parkrunners were doing.

The course doesn't go all the way to the northern end of the park, so you only briefly get a glimpse of the mansion while cutting through the central avenue heading over the the western side. Before you know it, you are heading back towards the main meeting point where you'll pass the playground and tennis courts before taking another turn to head alongside the beautifully manicured cricket pitch which is home to Ilford Cricket Club.

There is another crossing of one of the car park entrances before completing the first full lap. The lap is completed a second time and at that point you can turn back down the opening straight, which is now the finishing straight. There is a bandstand along here, however it's not quite complete - the base remains but the roof and the supporting pillars were removed in 1968 to make way for the Ilford War Memorial which was due to be relocated from the Ilford War Memorial Garden at Newbury Park. However the plan was abandoned and as the bandstand was rarely used, it was never restored.

The finish is in exactly the same spot as the start, so after we had finished the event we had our barcodes scanned and then headed into the Valentines Park Cafe as did some of the parkrun volunteers and participants for post-event refreshments. It seemed to have a good selection of breakfast options (including a few decent looking vegan options). We grabbed some hot drinks and headed into the playground...

It's quite a decent one with separate areas for younger kids and the older ones. The playground has an animal theme and it looks like most of those depicted relate to Ilford. You'll see squirrels, swans and foxes which are understandable. Initially I thought the mammoth was included as a fun addition, but it turns out that the most complete mammoth skull to be found in the UK was discovered in Ilford in 1863. It is on display in the Natural History Museum.

The results for event 487 were processed and online a few hours later. 232 people had taken part and this broadly falls in line with the current expected number. Should you wish to see further detail of the course, my GPS data can be found on my Strava account: Valentines parkrun GPS data. The Relive course fly-by video can be found on youtube: Valentines parkrun course fly-by. I'm very pleased that I revisited this venue as it has given me a new appreciation of this wonderful park. Everyone was very welcoming so thank you to all the volunteers for making our visit extra special.


Sunday, 5 September 2021

Burgess parkrun

Nestled on the boundaries of the districts of Bermondsey, Peckham, Camberwell and Walworth, in the London Borough of Southwark you will find Burgess Park, which at 56 hectares is the largest park in the borough. Quite often, the land used for public parks are natural areas that have been bequeathed to, or bought by, the local council in order to establish a park. The origins story of Burgess Park is quite different.

The area that the park occupies was until the end of the Second World War mostly covered in dense housing and factories served by The Grand Surrey Canal since its construction in the very early 1800s. There were also a few smaller patches of recreational land, which now also form parts of the park. In 1943 a plan for the future development of London (known as the Abercrombie Plan) was written and the suggestion that a proper park should be created was born from that.

Many of the commercial buildings had suffered significant bomb damage during the war, and those that weren't damaged were eventually abandoned as the increase of freight being moved around by road lead to the decline and subsequent closure of the canal. The buildings that hadn't been damaged were gradually bought and demolished. This was not a swift process and it took many years for this to take place.

The early 1970s saw the canal filled in which gave another boost to the slow pace of the creation of the park. It wasn't until 1973 that it was actually given it's current name, which is in honour to Jessie Burgess who was Camberwell's first female Mayor. She served two-terms, 1945-46, and then 1946-47. Before that it had simply been known as North Camberwell Open Space, but it was still a hodge-podge of separate unconnected parkland areas. It wasn't until 1982 that all the fragments of land finally came together as a joined-up park.

On a personal note, my Dad's side of the family historically lived in the vicinity of what is now the park and this dates back further than he can remember. My Nan and Grandad got married in St Georges Church in the 1950s. I also spent the first few years of my life living locally, and my first nursery school was just a stone's throw away from the park. I remember the playground from the early 1980s which had the longest, fastest, scariest slide I had ever been on (probably not that scary, but I was only about 3 years old). If memory serves, it also had gymnastic rings and parallel bars, which were quite unusual for a children's playground.

The modern day park has recently had a multi-million-pound makeover which has freshened up some of the older facilities and added some new features. There are three playgrounds, tennis courts, football pitches (I remember playing rounds of the Metropolitan Police five-a-side football competition here as a child/teenager), BBQ area, community arts projects, gardens, and a lake. It's also home to 'BMX Track London' which is a world-class 350-long BMX facility. Peckham BMX Club are based here and one of their riders recently won a silver medal at the Japan 2020 (2021) Olympics.

Since September 2012, the park has also been home to a free, 5k event on Saturday mornings called Burgess parkrun. I originally visited this venue in March 2013, but wanted to revisited as I felt that the original write-up didn't quite do this place the justice it deserves, plus I wanted to see how the event has matured. The park has a small car park (25 spaces) just off of Albany Road - it is free for up to four hours (please note: as of mid-2021, it is closed as it is the site of a Covid testing facility). There are some local side streets that allow weekend parking, notably the roads around Addington Square and also along Albany Road.

The park is quite long and has entrances at both the Old Kent Road end and the Camberwell Road (Walworth Road) end - they are both well served by large number of local busses, but please note that you need to be at the Camberwell Road end for the start of the parkrun. There are a few cycle racks just inside this entrance, but fill up quickly - there are other cycle racks dotted around, but may not be so convenient. If travelling by train, you could head for Elephant and Castle, Loughborough Junction or Denmark Hill, or by tube to Elephant and Castle, Oval or Kennington (Kennington is the closest tube by a fraction, but Elephant and Castle has the most straightforward route to the park for anyone not familiar with the area).

Toilets, changing facilities, showers and lockers are all available inside the tennis centre which is right next to the start area. The course is a difficult one to categorise in terms of its layout - I think the best I can do is to say that it's an out-and-back with a loop at the end (but the way back has some slight variations). The profile is flat with just the slightest hint of some undulations at the eastern end of the course. Underfoot is tarmac with a stretch of grass at the very end, so I can safely say it's a road shoe course all year round, and it's perfectly fine for running buggies.

The current average number of attendees stands at 243.4, but this does not tell the complete story. A quick look through the results reveals very large peaks and troughs from week to week - these may been down to bad weather, or nearby events cancelling etc. In 2020, just before the Covid lockdown, the event had been attracting over 600 people on a regular basis. At time of writing, the record attendance is 884, set in January 2020. The current (summer 2021) attendance figures seem to be hovering around the 400 mark.

Starting outside the tennis courts, the course heads east along the perfectly straight main path. Please be aware that this path is also a cycle route and is very well-used by cyclists. Along here you'll spot many of the parks interesting features. The first one is the Grade II Listed Lime Kiln - it was built in 1816 and would be used to produce 'quicklime' which was used in mortar for houses and in agricultural fertilizer.

Looking beyond the park's boundaries, you may be able to spot the remaining buildings of the Aylesbury Estate, built in typical 1960's grey brutalist concrete. It is as imposing and deprived as the appearance suggests. The estate originally consisted of 2,700 flats which housed around 10,000 people. It is currently undergoing a major regeneration plan, and you can see some of the new buildings from the park. In the far distance you should be able to clearly make out the distinctive shape of The Shard, at London Bridge. 

The course then heads through an underpass which takes you under Wells Way which from 1913 was home to Camberwell Central Cinema, past St Georges Church and into the eastern section of the park. You may also spot the building across the road with the butterfly mural on the side - This was originally built as the Passmore Edwards Library, Baths and Wash House. The butterfly on the side is the Camberwell Beauty, a butterfly that is not native to the UK but is sometimes found. The species' UK name came about after two were found in Camberwell in 1748.

The eastern side of the park is where you will find the 'Bridge to Nowhere'. At first glance its presence can be a little confusing, but when you realise you are running along the route of the former Grand Surrey Canal, it all makes perfect sense. The bridge was constructed in 1906, and I think it's fantastic to see such a feature left in situ long after it was originally in use. Sadly it is no longer open to walk across.

After just over a kilometre since the start, the course takes a couple of left hand turns and heads back westwards. Somewhere around this part of the park is where the original R.Whites drinks factories and depots were located from 1887. The company employed hundreds of local people and are probably most famous for their 'secret lemonade drinker' adverts in the 1970s and beyond. Another big manufacturer was 'Watkins Bible Bookbinding Factory' who again employed hundreds of local people where they produced up to a million bibles every year.

It's worth noting that Burgess parkrun doesn't appear to use any course signage, so you will have to rely on the marshals in order to navigate the course. They were stationed in many places around the park, but there are still a few points where a wrong turn could be made. I would recommend having a detailed look at the official course map (and perhaps some GPS data and a Relive video) before visiting. Also the narrowest section of course is where you may encounter two-way parkrunners - my wife and daughter had an issue here where some faster runners were running three-abreast, taking up the entire width of the path and forced them onto the grass.

The route then takes in a single loop of the lake (when I first ran here in 2013, the course was slightly different and featured two loops of the lake). You briefly leave the perimeter of the lake at the top end where the course reaches its highest point. You may not spot it, but just outside the park is the former Thomas-a-Becket pub which is famous for its boxing training ring upstairs. This is where former British, Commonwealth and European Heavyweight title-holder Henry Cooper used to train. David Bowie was known to have used one of the pub's rooms as a rehearsal space in the 1970s.

This northern section is nice as it passes through a denser area of trees, and at the end you rejoin the lakeside perimeter path. The lake is a man-made feature and when it was constructed it featured the largest plastic lining ever produced. It holds around 12 million gallons of water and is home to a large number of fish. The eastern half is used for fishing while the western half is purely ornamental.

The rest of the parkrun route is, broadly speaking, a case of heading back along the same paths that were used on the way out, with the small addition of an extra dog-leg before heading back along the former canal path back under the bridge to nowhere, then through the underpass. Instead of continuing along the main path, the course now veers slightly to the left onto a different path before finally moving onto grass (it's a little bumpy underfoot) for the final 50 metres or so where you'll find the finish line.

As this venue can have very high numbers of finishers, it has a long, windy funnel before reaching the volunteers handing out tokens. With the 5km and barcode scanning complete, it's time to move on - the official post-event refreshments are at Fowlds Cafe which is just outside the park behind the tennis courts. It's only a small cafe, so if you fancy an alternative, there is the cafe at the tennis courts which is run by the charity 'Burgess Sports'. Or you can head across to the other side of the park where you will find the Park Life Cafe.

An interesting event takes place each September - The four parkruns in the borough of Southwark have an event called the 'Southwark Slam'. This is where people are invited to visit all four of Southwark's parkruns (Burgess, Southwark, Peckham Rye, and Dulwich) during the month. A brilliant idea which I'm sure really helps to maintain a great community between the four venues.

The results for event 388 were processed and published later that morning. 397 people had completed the 5k. This was spot-on the current expected number. I recorded the run with my Garmin and the full GPS trace of the course can be viewed on my Strava account, here: Burgess parkrun #388. The GPS data was also transferred to Relive and the course fly-by video can be viewed, here: Burgess parkrun course fly-by.

After giving the kids some time to test out one of the playgrounds, we headed off to visit my parents just around the corner in Bermondsey. It was really nice to spend some time in a park that I visited quite often as a young child. A final point to note is that this is a very busy park. The sheer number of non-parkrun people in the park at 9am on a Saturday was incredible. There are so many things going on, and that's a great thing to see. The team of volunteers were wonderful and I can only offer my thanks for making us feel so welcome at their event.


Sunday, 29 August 2021

Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun

In the East Hampshire district of Hampshire lies the town of Bordon. It has a history of settlements dating back thousands of years, but the beginnings of the modern version of the town came in 1826 when a turnpike road (now the A325) was constructed to link the towns of Petersfield and Farnham.

In 1863, the growth of the town was fueled when the War Office purchased some land known as Hogmoor Inclosure from the Monarch to use as a training ground. This established a link to the British Army that would go on to last well-over 100 years. By 1899 the first of the 'Bordon Camp' barracks living quarters had been constructed with many additions and modifications added in subsequent years.

Over the years, the training camp was used mostly by the British Army, but also had periods during the first and second world wars where the Canadian Army were based here. Much of the training here has involved tracked vehicles (such as tanks) as the sandy soil replicated the conditions of many areas where the troops would be deployed. By 2015 all military training had been moved away from Bordon and the re-development of the town began.

The area of re-development is known as Prince Philip Park and is currently still in progress, Not only will there eventually be 2,400 new homes which will increase the population from c.14,000 up to 23,000, but the development is creating an entirely new town centre. This comes complete with new shops, leisure centre, drive-in cinema, arts centre, cafes, town squares, office spaces and a park.

The adjacent former-training-area of Hogmoor Inclosure is part of this project. The Inclosure is a 54 hectare area of woodland and heathland just to the west of the town centre. The name Hogmoor comes from the middle ages where the area was home to many wild boars (aka hogs). The legend is that young noblemen would have used dogs and long spears to hunt them.

It is now open to the public, and has been designated as a SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace). This is an area that is aimed at protecting nearby SPAs (Special Protection Area), in this case Wealden Heaths and Woolmer Forest, from increased visits and all the negative effects that too many visitors can bring as the local population increases.

To facilitate this, it now has a car park, a cafe, toilets, an educational and event space called The Beehive, a large natural playground and various other interesting bits and pieces that we'll come to later. In March 2018, it became home to a weekly 5km event called Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun.

We drove to the venue in August 2021 and parked in the large on-site car park, which is free-of-charge. If you were to cycle to the venue, you could secure your bike to one of the seven bike racks located next to the toilets. As far as other transport options are concerned, using a bus is currently the only public-transport option to get close to the venue, and busses seem to run to Bordon from most of the local towns.

There was, for a time, a military railway line that terminated at Bordon, this was not only used for transportation, but as a trainline construction training facility. The line was closed in the mid-1960s. With the current expansion of the town, the possibility of the line and station being re-instated has been raised, but from what I can see it doesn't seem to be moving forward. So the closest train stations are Liphook, Alton and Farnham where you'd need to use the respective bus services to complete the journey.

The main facilities are all grouped in the area next to the car park, which is very convenient. Pre-event, the parkrun volunteers and participants congregate in the triangular-shaped open space just to the east of the car park. The briefings take place here and the event starts a few metres away on one of the forest paths. The course is comprised of two anti-clockwise laps, the profile is largely flat with some mild undulations, and underfoot is a combination of dirt paths and sand. For shoe choice, I'd go for trail shoes in anything but the driest conditions.

Once under way, the route makes its way to the southern end of the park where there is a large loop to negotiate. On the way you will spot the bat lodge - this provides an undercover shelter and resting area for humans and also a roof area for nesting bats.

Also dotted around the site are 11 wood-carved sentinels - they represent the lives of the people who have lived in the area over the centuries. You may also notice the large concrete blocks that the sentinels stand on - these are commonly known as 'dragons teeth' and are left-over from the army's training. They are used to impede the movement of tanks in war zones and would have been a useful training tool. There are more dragons teeth dotted around the playground area (great for photo opportunities).

The course switches back and forth between pine forest paths and the open scrub areas. Sometimes the path is really wide, but there are also a few sections where it narrows down to pretty much single file.

This is also a good time to mention the sand. Geologically, the area sits on the Folkestone formation which is a layer of sandstone, however the lithification process was poor, resulting in a lots of loose sand that has not managed to form into sandstone. The result is lots of areas that are sandy. On most of the paths the parkrun uses, this is a light dusting mixed in with the dirt. But, there are a few sections that are pure sand and is like walking/running on a sandy beach. I had taken on the buggy running duties for the day, so had to work extra hard to push my 3 year-old through it. At some points we were 'drifting' as the back end kicked out - It was great fun for me and my son, but I would imagine that not all buggy runners would feel the same.

photo credit: bottom and centre left by esther park

Returning to the north end of the inclosure via a two-way running section, there is then a northern loop through a different section of forest. Underfoot is firmer through here and it is bordered with barbed wire fences which I'm assuming are the ones the army installed to secure the area. This leads past the car park and back the the original meeting point, which now has a finish funnel in place. One more identical lap later and you can dive into the funnel, collect a token, take a breather and then get your barcode and finishing token scanned.

Once the 5km has been completed, refreshments are available in the on-site cafe 'Cafe Hogmoor'. There's a reasonable selection of hot and cold foods and drinks. I had a vegan sausage bap, which wasn't the greatest ever, but did the job. We then spent the rest of the day in the playground and exploring the inclosure in more detail.

If you visit with kids, you'll find the playground to be very good - it's spacious with all kinds of things to play on. There's the longest playground zip-line I've ever seen, some vertical bouncy swinging things, various climbing frames and of course, tonnes of sand. We kept an eye out for any reptiles, as I had read that this area of Hampshire supports all of the UK's 12 native reptile species. Sadly I didn't spot any, but we did see loads of slugs, dragonflies and hoverflies.

We found an old abandoned rusty vehicle next to the playground, which I couldn't quite identify but looked like it would once have had tracks. We found a forest den and found some more sentinels that we hadn't spotted during the parkrun. There are hidden channels carved into the landscape by tanks, some overgrown, hiding just off the main paths. Then we stumbled across, the entrance to the underground bat bunker. We also took some time to visit the nearby Bordon Military Cemetery.

Our parkrun results notifications came through while we were exploring and we saw that there had been 233 finishers at event number 112. This was slightly higher than the current average of 193.3, but this may have been due to some other nearby events having been cancelled over the bank holiday weekend.

I recorded the activity with my Garmin and you can see the GPS data on my Strava account, here: Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun #112. The data was also used to create this Relive course fly-by video: Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun relive video.

By 2.30pm we were finally ready to hit the road back home. The volunteers had all been very friendly and offered us lots of encouragement on the way around, and we were very grateful for being warmly welcomed to their event. Thank you.


Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tonbridge junior parkrun

There has been a 5k parkrun in Tonbridge since November 2013 and in July 2017 this was joined by a 2k junior version. We had good intentions to visit shortly after it started, but for one reason or another, we never managed to make it, until now.

The venue for Tonbridge junior parkrun is Tonbridge Farm Sportsground (please note: this is not the same venue as the 5k event) which occupies around 16 hectares of land just to the north of the town centre. You can access it by heading along Shipbourne Road before turning onto Darenth Avenue and dropping down the hill and into the sportsground car park, which has ample space and is free-of-charge to use.

The sportsground and adjacent area consists of a playground, a skatepark, five-a-side football pitches, basketball court, Tonbridge Bowling Club, and an open sports field which is marked with five football pitches and a cricket pitch. This open area is also used for the parkrun. There is a clubhouse which I understand contains toilets, however it didn't appear to be open when we visited (this may have been Covid related). The nearest alternative public toilets are near Tonbridge Castle just off the high street.

The sportsground is also the location of Longmead Stadium - this is home to Tonbridge Angels Football Club, Incidentally the football club used to be based at 'Angel Ground' which was right in the town centre but it was demolished in 1980 to make way for a shopping centre, which forced the move to the new stadium.

The parkrun takes place over a two-and-a-bit lap clockwise course around the almost-rectangular playing field. It's a flat course and underfoot is a combination of beautifully kept lush grass and paths. You only actually use the grass for one of the four sides of the rectangle, with the remaining three on hard paths. The good thing for parents is that as it is a large open area, you can easily see the entire course from the main congregation point / finish point.

Things to note around the course: There is a little camber while on the grass which drops downwards towards the adjacent bushes. Also, the adjacent field to the west is home to a flock of sheep, so it's nice to hear the background sounds of them bleating away while plodding around the course.

At present, the event attracts an average of 87.9 participants each week (add the parents and you are likely to have around 130 or so people moving around the course). Once the initial pack has spread out, there is ample space for everyone. We had visited at event 142 on 15 August 2021 where my daughter took part with her friend and there were 89 finishers, so almost spot-on the average.

The results were processed swiftly and we received our notifications while we were still in the playground. My daughter commented that she really liked this venue, part of this was down to the fact that she found that the course felt shorter then some other junior parkrun venues she has visited. I reckon that had something to do with the fact that she took part with her friend who she hadn't seen since before the Covid lockdown, and her attention was distracted by chatting about Minecraft instead. We've all done it!

I did my own freedom run/walk around the course so I had some GPS data to share, and here it is: Strava - Tonbridge Junior parkrun. I also uploaded the data to the Relive app which created a nice little fly-by video, which can be found here: Tonbridge junior parkrun fly-by video. It was a nice venue for the event and expect it won't be the last time we visit, especially if her friend is keen to do it again.

Related post:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...